Improvised and Alive: "Melon Shades" Releases Debut Album
There is nothing planned about the Maine-based duo Melon Shades. Their tempo, melody, every rise and fall: each the result of the partnership between Skidmore first-year Henry Raker ‘22 and his hometown friend Shawn Russell. The musicians never take themselves too seriously, and this is perhaps most noticeable on their debut album’s cover — inspired both by Russell holding a melon with shades on and a rogue mouse that nearly got the best of them (escaping from beneath their sofa).
The duo formed after a mutual friend suggested Raker attend a music gathering outside of Russell’s home. After that first encounter, the two “linked up mentally and musically and just had a lot of fun,” explained Russell. Their first release was produced in a living room with a field microphone provided by Raker; it is hazy and jazzy, funky and experimental — matching its mostly improvised nature.
According to Raker, the album is “really reflective of the way we process music in our heads because most of those songs were single takes, if not all. I think if you want to see how linearly or nonlinearly our thoughts move, then listen to the album.”
While most of Melon Shades’ music is unplanned, some songs would start with a chord progression that either Raker or Russell had previously written. From there, it depended on a combination of the “summer day that we were involved with and then meeting in my living room and sharing what music we had been listening to,” explained Russell.
Having a similar taste in music made it easier for the duo to play around in a way that helped them get to know each other musically. The technique worked, and the two were often surprised by what they could come up with in the moment.
“As we finished recording the song ‘Melon Shades’ on the album, we bursted out laughing. It was excited laughter because we were in awe of what happened,” said Russell. Part of this awe is even saved on the track. According to Raker, “At the end of the song you can hear Shawn say ‘Woah, that was unreal.’ I left that in because we couldn’t believe it. To us, that was one of the best pieces of music we had ever done.”
Throughout the whole album — even the more “out there” songs — the duo is able to build and mold space within their music. When listening, especially to longer pieces like “Henry Sleeps” (originally titled “Henry Dies”) and “Reverse,” the songs seem to naturally break apart into chunks.
“We potentially bend time in the songs,” explained Russell. “When it comes to tempo, we’ll sometimes change time signatures experimentally, without even thinking about it.” Raker explained this phenomenon by equating their music-making style to visiting a Tudor mansion. While you may be walking through the same house (or listening to the same song), new rooms and passages greet you and feel different. Some songs are just bigger houses than others.
Because of this style, Raker and Russell only work when they’re together, which is not as often as they’d like. The duo continues to share music with one another and, when not performing as Melon Shades, can be found with their other band, Astral Pines. According to Raker, “There’s some music where you can record the drum part then send it to someone who records the guitar part and write it like that. But with Melon Shades, it has to happen in the moment or it wouldn’t have the same feel. You have to see each other and feel each other in the room. It’s definitely half the experience and half the music.”
And while Raker and Russell haven’t been able to play together as much as they’d like since last summer, the hometown friends will reuinte briefly for a show on Feb.8 at Skidmore’s elusive Laundromat venue where the band’s boyish charm and fun-loving approach is sure to shine through in the upcoming performance, carrying them right into whatever next summer may hold for them.
Want to hear what music inspires Melon Shades? Check out the playlist below!